John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Somebody loves copy editors

At last, somebody understands us.

Of course, it would be The Intern.

The Intern got her manuscript back from the copy editor, and, well, it didn’t look good:

The copy editor had caught so many silly mistakes, pointed out places where a topic mentioned in an introduction was never addressed in the chapter, and even raised questions about the political correctness of some of INTERN's word choices. “Oh man!” thought INTERN. “Copy Editor must think INTERN is a fool! Copy Editor must be wondering what Publisher was thinking when they offered to publish such a cretinous and unworthy INTERN!”

The following passage from The Intern’s blog shows why The Unpaid Intern is not yet a Seasoned Wordsmith. Instead of railing against Copy Editor’s obsession with minutiae and failure to honor Her Writer’s Voice, she offers a short panegyric to our whole tribe:

Copy editing is not for sissies. A good copy editor does not humor you. A good copy editor does not chuckle warmly at your tendency to misspell the names of foreign dignitaries or diseases and let it stand ’cause it’s cute. A good copy editor will kindly but firmly tell you that your phrasing is unclear, your language offensive, and your punctuation laughable. These people are frighteningly smart and thorough and have your manuscript’s best interests at heart and deserve all the love and respect in the universe.

Well, The Intern gets the copy desk’s love and respect, however fleetingly, and its encouragement to potential employers to have a look at her Web site and think about offering her a job. Someone who recognizes and accepts correction is probably the kind of employee you need.

Thank you, @EditorMark, for the citation.

6 comments:

  1. ... and next week they'll lay that copy editor off and the Intern will have to fend for herself.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And just who is it, and what qualifications has he, to decide what is "offensive?" Grammar is one thing:point of view is another.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What's "offensive"? In many cases, you'll know it when you see it, but my working definition is something that will get complaints (and not of the picky, feigned outrage type from folks looking for a soapbox). Two examples from my experience: 1) A writer spelled out "shit list" in a quote. This was done at the last minute and made it into print; it was originally "s--- list." It generated weeks of complaints. 2) A writer argued that it was OK to use an ethnic slur in a quote (the style book did not allow that exception). I took it to his boss, who overruled him.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Patricia the TerseDecember 3, 2009 at 5:41 PM

    In these days of artificial outrage, when nearly every happily oppressed group is looking for time in front of a camera and microphone, almost everything can become "offensive." Do you recall the flap over the word "niggardly?"Cue Al "Tawana" Sharpton..

    ReplyDelete
  5. I always heard that we were putting out a "family newspaper." That meant, to most people, that you could read the text aloud to Little Billy and to Grandpa Joe at the same time, and neither would be moved to exclaim "WTF!?"

    At the same time, I subscribe to Jerry Seinfeld's tenet that "There is no such thing as fun for the whole family."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Patricia the TerseDecember 4, 2009 at 5:43 PM

    Those little **** are so convenient.

    ReplyDelete